Archive for Wednesday, July 16, 2014

KDOT agrees traffic study needed for Baldwin City Wal-Mart Express

July 16, 2014

Baldwin City has a powerful partner in its demand that Wal-Mart Inc. submit a traffic study with its development plan for a Wal-Mart Express on U.S. Highway 56.

What Wal-Mart proposes

• An 11,879-square-foot Wal-Mart Express in the northeast section of the one-block lot north of U.S. 56 between Eisenhower Road and Washington Street. The store is to have a grocery department with meat, dairy and fresh produce; a pharmacy; and everyday household items and baby supplies.

The store will have two off-street loading docks on its north side.

• A gas island to the west of the store.

• A 51-stall parking lot in the southern section of the lot with 14 additional stalls to the south and west of the building.

• One entrance from Eisenhower Road in the lot’s northwest corner and another off Ames Street (U.S. Highway 56) in the lot’s southeast corner. The Ames Street entrance shown on the site plan is at odds with the June re-platting of the lot, which forbade any curb cut onto the highway.

Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe said Kansas Department of Transportation officials told him Tuesday the department agreed a traffic study was needed with the development plan for the store. Lowe said KDOT and the city have an agreement that required the department approve all intersection improvements on the highway, such as the one proposed for Eisenhower Road and U.S. 56 for the Wal-Mart Express.

On July 8, the Baldwin City Planning Commission tabled the development plan for the store pending the submission of a traffic study. The planning commission also required the Baldwin City Council to review the development plan for compatibility with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Those actions gave Wal-Mart a number of options on how to move forward. It could drop its plans for Baldwin City, appeal the planning commission’s decision to the City Council or complete the traffic study and bring the development plan back to the planning commission.

Lowe said he and other city staff members, including city attorney Matt Hoy, took part in a teleconference Tuesday with members of BFA Engineering, the firm that brought the development plan to the city. He said there was no indication of what Wal-Mart planned to do.

The clock is ticking on the 15-day window Wal-Mart has to appeal the planning commission’s decisions. Lowe said he would expect the council to consider any appeal as soon as possible. That would not be at its Monday meeting, which will focus on the city’s 2015 budget, he said.

Hoy has found the planning commission has no authority to require the city council take any action, such as a review of the Wal-Mart Express development plan for compatibility with the comprehensive plan, Lowe said. Nonetheless, council members would want to make their own review of the development plan and how it relates to zoning regulations and the city’s comprehensive plan, he said.

A Wal-Mart decision to abandon its Baldwin City plan seems unlikely after it selected the city for what is still a relatively new kind of store. Company material indicates there have only been 21 Wal-Mart Express stores opened since the concept was created in 2011.

In response to the oft-asked question of why Wal-Mart is building a store in the community when there are three Wal-Mart stores within a 20-minute drive, Wal-Mart spokesperson Delia Garcia said the company was giving its local customers what they want.

“It’s a simple answer,” she said. “It’s about serving our customers more conveniently. This is the opportunity to serve our Baldwin City customers closer to home. We know our customers in Baldwin City are traveling and want to save money.”

Neighboring stores may be only 20 minutes away, but shopping at them takes more time when roundtrip mileage is considered, Garcia said. Wal-Mart Express stores are also meant to provide quicker in-and-out shopping than at the company’s super centers, she said.

“Those are really meant for one-stop shopping for a broad assortment of products,” she said.

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